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Frederick Douglass to Sydney H. Gay, August 21, 1847

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FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO SYDNEY H. GAY

Austinburg,1The printed letter erroneously lists the town as “Austinburgh.” Ohio. 20 August 1847.

MY DEAR FRIEND—

I can send you but the barest outline of our Western tour thus far. Friend Garrison and myself, are moving from place to place, with such rapidity, and the places of meeting are at such “magnificent distances” from each other, that we have little or no time left us to report progress.2Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison embarked on a speaking tour of the western states in August 1847. The tour went through Pennsylvania and Ohio, where the two were joined by Stephen S. Foster and Lucretia Mott, who stayed with the tour in New Lisbon, Warren, and Ravenna. In late September Garrison fell ill in Cleveland and was unable to complete the tour. Douglass and Foster continued on to western New York and returned to Massachusetts in late October. NASS, 2 September 1847; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:465–66; Mayer, All on Fire, 371; Gamble, “Moral Suasion in the West,” 349. To make our tour useful, we are compelled to devote ourselves unreservedly to the work of enlisting by private, as well as public effort, the hearts of those with whom we are brought in contact. Our private society is sought for with as much honestness and avidity, as are our public addresses. Mr. Garrison is the honoured centre of every circle into whose midst we are brought. His conversational powers are inexhaustible; he seems as fresh at midnight as at midday. Our friends eagerly flock around to hear his words of strength and cheer, while our enemies as eagerly draw around to catch him in his words. The former go away delighted with the man, while the latter skulk away, disappointed and chagrined, that they have found so little at which to be offended. Mr. Garrison’s visit must do much to disabuse the public mind in this region, and to produce a mighty reaction in favour of radical Eastern Abolitionism. The Liberty party, and pro-slavery papers, have overshot themselves in regard to him.—They have so maligned, and slandered him, and have so distorted, perverted, and misrepresented his views, that they have created the most intense curiosity among the people to see and hear him, and having associated his person with the representations of his mind, that his bare presence, without the utterance of a word, is all sufficient to create an impression most favourable to him, and at once to dispel the dread, and gloomy apprehensions created concerning him. When he opens his mouth, and pours forth his truthful voice, the dark and foul spirit of slander falls before him, like Dagon before the ark.3Dagon was a Mesopotamian deity associated with the Philistines. When the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant into Dagon’s temple, the statue of the deity fell, breaking off its hands and head. This incident was one of many showing the God of Israel’s displeasure over the theft of the Ark and forcing its return. 1 Sam. 5:1–7; Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:1–2. People come expecting to see a fierce, proud, ambitious, and bitter looking man, a gloomy spirit, altogether dissatisfied with himself, and all the world around him; a stranger to peace, a man of war, if not of blood; completely wrapped up within the narrow limits of a single idea, perfectly above everything interesting to other men, an infidel, atheist, and madman, rejoicing over the triumphs of evil, and inflexibly bent upon the destruction of everything good. Such is the man which the pious, and pro-slavery papers of our land have taught the honest “Buckeyes”4According to local lore, when Colonel Ebenezer Sproat led the first Ohio settlers into the region, the Native Americans assigned him the name “Buckeye” because his height resembled that of the numerous buckeye trees (Aesculus glabra) of the area. The name soon became associated with all members of his settlement, and then with all residents of Ohio. The name became nationally known during the 1840 “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” presidential campaign, when William Henry Harrison appealed to the voting population by accentuating his military career in the Ohio territory and his association with the common backwoodsman. Allan Carpenter and Randy Lyon, The Encyclopedia of the Midwest (New York, 1989), 62; Alfred Mathews, Ohio and Her Western Reserve (New York, 1902), 228; Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer, State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols: A Historical Guide (Westport, Conn., 1994), 13. to look for in the person of William Lloyd

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Garrison, and in seeing him, they readily perceive how great has been the deception praoticed upon them, and very naturally many of them are filled with indignation, and loathing, for their mean and dastardly deceiyers. Thus the cause goes gloriously on, and thus is the wisdom of the crafty confounded, and the counsels of the ungodly brought to naught.5A paraphrase of Job 5:12–13. Good is thus brought out of evil,6A reference to Rom. 3:8. and the wrath of man made to praise God.7Ps. 76:10.

On Wednesday, and Thursday, 11th and 12th August, we held five very interesting meetings in Pittsburg. The day meetings were held in the open air, and were very well attended. The evening meetings were held in Temperance Hall, a large room, but by no means sufficient to hold the numbers that pressed to hear.—The door-ways, and windows, and yard of the Hall, were crowded, while many were compelled to leave, without gaining admission to these. Hundreds remained on the outside of the building from an early hour till eleven o’clock at night.8On 11 August 1847, as a result of the delayed arrival of Garrison, Douglass spoke alone at the Temperance Hall in Pittsburgh. When Garrison finally arrived that evening, he joined Douglass on the platform. The following day, the two spoke at three large meetings, two of which were held outdoors. Pittsburgh Gazette, 13 August 1847; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:508–09. What a commentary on the religion of Pittsburg it is, that every church in the place was closed against us. All were too holy in which to plead the cause of our own common humanity. The great Christian cause of the age, like early Christianity itself, is too much despised by the world, to be admitted into the house of God. When saving men in our land, shall have become as popular as killing men now is in Mexico,9A reference to the Mexican-American War (1846–48). we shall not only have churches open to our use, but, perhaps, be voted into religious societies as honorary members. In that day, the philanthropic Garrison may possibly be regarded as religious as the pious man-butcher, Zachary Taylor.10Zachary Taylor (1784–1850), the son of a Kentucky planter, began his military career in 1808. He served under William Henry Harrison during the War of 1812 and later led forces in the Black Hawk and Seminole Wars. As commander of the Sixth U.S. Infantry Regiment, Taylor led the U.S. Army into the newly annexed state of Texas in 1845. Less than a year later, his troops invaded Mexico, taking the city of Monterrey and defeating the Mexican Army of the North. After President James K. Polk placed General Winfield Scott in command of the invasion at Vera Cruz, Taylor, left with half of his force, spent the remainder of the Mexican-American War conducting raids along the U.S.-Mexican border. Though not a great strategist or tactician, Taylor was popular with his men for his ability to win battles and for his unconventional style, earning him the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.” His return to the United States as a war hero in 1847 led to his nomination as the Whig presidential candidate and contributed to his victory in the 1848 election. Mark Crawford, Encyclopedia of the Mexican-American War (Santa Barbara, Calif., 1999), 268–69; DAB, 18:349–54; ANB, 9:349–55.

On Friday morning, 13th, we took the steamboat Beaver, frorn Pittsburg to New Brighton11According to Garrison, he and Douglass took an unnamed steamer from Pittsburgh to Beaver, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, 14 August 1847. From Beaver they caught an omnibus that carried them to New Brighton. Lib., 20 August 1847; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:510.—[t]he home of our kind friend, Milo A. Townsend,12Milo A. Townsend (1816–77) of New Brighton, Pennsylvania, was a Quaker abolitionist, schoolmaster, bookseller, and editor of the New Brighton Times. Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:513n. and our Anti-Slavery poetess, Grace Greenwood.13Sarah Jane Clarke Lippincott (1823–1904) wrote poetry and children’s stories under the pseudonym “Grace Greenwood.” Originally from Pompeii, New York, Lippincott relocated to New Brighton, Pennsylvania, in 1842. In 1844 she began her literary career by publishing in numerous periodicals. She became an editorial assistant for Godey’s Lady’s Book, but was fired for her antislavery writings. Lippincott then moved to Washington, D.C., where she wrote for the National Era. In 1853 she married and moved to Philadelphia, where she launched her own successful children’s magazine, the Little Pilgrim. NAW, 2:407–09; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:513n. A number of our friends accompanied us from Pittsburg to that place, a goodly number of whom were coloured persons. It is usual to dine on this host between Pittsburg and Beaver, but on this occasion, strange to tell, no dinner was furnished, for the very American reason, that a goodly nurnher of persons on board were coloured, and it was deemed probable that some of them might presume to dine, and would thus give offence to the white skinned aristocracy. So like the American delegates to the Evangelical Alliance, we concluded to preserve the peace by "going without our dinners."

We held two rneetings at New Brighton, afternoon and evening, and here, too, the churches were closed against us, and we were compelled to take an upper room in a flour store.14Douglass, Garrison, and Martin R. Delany spoke at two meetings in New Brighton on Saturday, 14 August 1847. Both meetings were held in the upper storeroom of a general store and were well attended by several hundred people despite the cramped conditions. Lib., 20 August 1847; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3510–11. Thus making good the proposition, that humanity is received more cordially in the street than in the church. Our meetings at New Brighton were the last we held in Pennsylvania.

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On Saturday, 14th instant, we took a boat on the Beaver and Warren Canal for Youngstown, Ohio,15A section of the Beaver and Erie Canal opened to river traffic in 1844 and was part of the main waterway between Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania. The Beaver Division of the canal began at Beaver and ran to New Castle, where a connection with the Ohio and Pennsylvania Canal would quickly reach Youngstown and Warren in eastern Ohio. William H. Shank, The Amazing Pennsylvania Canals (York, Pa., 1981), 55–56. where Messrs. Foster16Stephen Symonds Foster (1809–81), the son of a Revolutionary War veteran, attended Dartmouth College and trained for the ministry at Union Theological Seminary. At both institutions he clashed with his classmates and faculty by opposing war and slavery. His passion for the antislavery cause and his conviction that the clergy supported slavery led him to abandon the ministry and take up abolition as a career. A confrontational speaker among the Garrisonians, often likened to a mad prophet, Foster is best known for his 1843 book, The Brotherhood of Thieves, which denounced the proslavery nature of American churches. In 1845 Foster married Abby Kelley, who was also an important anti-slavery activist. The pair remained active in such campaigns as disunionism, temperance, and women’s rights, and continued to support universal reform and black rights in the decades following the Civil War. Nancy H. Burkett, Abby Kelley Foster and Stephen S. Foster (Worcester, Mass., 1976); Pease and Pease, Bound with Them in Chains, 191–217; Louis Filler, “Parker Pillsbury: An Anti-Slavery Apostle,” NEQ, 19:315–37 (September 1947); ACAB, 2:514–15; NCAB, 2:328–29; DAB, 6:558–59. and Walker17Born and reared in Pennsylvania, James Barr Walker (1805–87) apprenticed as a printer, then moved to Ohio in the 1820s. Before the end of the decade he began studies at Western Reserve College at Hudson, Ohio, where Theodore Dwight Weld influenced his conversion to abolitionism and religious fervor. In 1837 the Portage Presbytery ordained Walker as a minister. In 1841 Walker anonymously published The Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation, which sold more than 20,000 copies, was widely used as a textbook in the United States and Europe, and underwent five printings by 1855. Just before publication of his theological work, Walker moved to Cincinnati, where he established The Watchman of the Valley, a religious paper that aroused some hostility because of the editor’s openly abolitionist position. He left Ohio briefly to publish a religious paper in Chicago, but returned in 1847 to act as a lecturing agent for the Western Anti-Slavery Society. Between 1850 and 1859, he was pastor of Congregational churches in Mansfield and Sandusky, Ohio. He served on the faculty of Chicago Theological Seminary from 1859 to 1865, then moved to Benzie County, Michigan, where he founded a Christian college modeled after Oberlin College. Walker finally settled in Illinois, assuming a position as professor of intellectual and moral philosophy at Wheaton College. Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Sixteenth Annual Report: Presented to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (Boston, 1848), 43; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:480n; Gamble, “Moral Suasion in the West,” 337–38; DAB, 19:347. were advertised to hold a meeting on the 14th, and 15th. On this boat, we received very kind and polite attention, and were allowed to take our meals with the other passengers. The trip from New Brighton to Youngstown, is exceedingly pleasant at this season of the year. The scenery on parts of the Beaver, is quite equal in beauty, if not in grandeur, to the Hudson. The hills on either side are lofty, precipitous, and covered with tall and finely proportioned trees. Verdant fields occasionally intersect the lofty and cragged hills, and form a beautiful variety of scene; now gratifying the eye, and at once leading it on to the discovery of new, and still more interesting points of beauty.

We reached Youngstown on Sunday morning, 15th instant,18On Sunday, 15 August 1847, Douglass and Garrison addressed three abolitionist meetings in Youngstown, Ohio. According to Garrison, Douglass suffered from a sore throat that gave him difficulty when speaking to the crowds. This ailment continued to plague Douglass. A week later, he was unable to speak during a meeting in Munson and retired early to tie a damp cloth around his throat. His condition was not much improved by having a tooth pulled in Painesville on 22 August. Lib., 10 September 1847; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:510–12. and were hospitably received by Mr. Andrews,19Norman Andrews (1799–c. 1882), originally from Connecticut, moved to Ohio in his youth where he tried his hand at farming and operated a general store. After 1842 he operated a hotel and tavern called the Mansion House in Youngstown. Although he retired around 1850, Andrews continued to own the hotel until 1865. Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:514n. the gentlemanly proprietor of the Youngstown Hotel. This gentleman kindly entertained us free of charge. The meetings in this place, like those held elsewhere on our Western tour, were held in the open air. Seats were arranged, and a platform erected in a beautiful grove, near the village. A good deacon of one of the churches whose doors were shut against us in this place, threatened us with prosecution, if we dared to arrange any seats on the ground during the Sabbath day. The threat, however, had no other effect than to summon a number of friends to the grove early in the morning, to arrange as many seats as might be necessary to accommodate the multitude. The meeting was large and spirited. The churches were all nearly vacated, and a large portion of their congregations came to worship in God’s great temple, and to show their love for the All Good by doing good to His children.20When asked his religious creed, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “That the mest acceptable service we render to [God] is doing good to his other children.” Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, ed. John Bigelow, 12 vols. (New York, 1904), 12:185.

Yours, sincerely,

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

PLSr: NASS, 2 September 1847. Reprinted in PaF, 9 September 1847; Glasgow Christian News, 7 October 1847; JNH, 10:725–28 (October 1925); Woodson, Mind of the Negro, 461–64; Foner, Life and Writings, 1:259–62.

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Date

August 21, 1847

Type

Publication Status

Published